on 19 July 2006
I first read this story many years ago in an ancient Nelsons Classics edition with a nice woodcut at the front. I have reread it so often that the old book is falling apart, so I looked for a new copy and found to my surprise that what I had thought to be a private enthusiasm was widely shared-a great pleasure.
As many have said the story is melodramatic. Burnett was a more than competent writer and a marvellous observer of people and society. She makes her heroine frankly and explicitly stupid,but keeps our sympathy for her. (Incidently, contrary to what some reviewers state Emily Fox-Seton is handsome going on beautiful, as the woodcut illustrates.)
What makes the booke for me is her observation of society and people--from a middle-aged marquis to a lower-middle-class servant to a whole rural village. These are not saccharine portraits, but sharp and witty comments on the society of late 19th century Britain. You could write a useful social history of that time from this book.
The description of the plight of poor but genteel women before employment as other than servants was available is extremely touching. The disintegration of an aging aristocratic lady as she finds herself subject to ordinary human feelings for the first time for many years is very funny--and very moving.
Definitely a keeper!
Emily Fox-Seton is a well-bred woman who makes a living as a general dogsbody for rich, upper-class people with less breeding and good taste than herself. The novel was originally published in two parts. The first part is quite short, almost a novella, and ends with Emily marrying a rather dull marquis after a country house party in which her qualities of good humour,good taste and sympathy are shown to best advantage. It reminded me of the fairytale qualities of last year's Persephone bestseller "Miss Pettigrew lives for a day". The second part, which explores Emily's life after her marriage, has a decidedly different tone-almost melodramatic. Emily's joy in her good fortune leads her to try to help her husband's cousin and heir, Alec Osborn. Osborn is the villain of the piece, and when the Marquis goes off to India for a long period, Alec begins to plot his revenge for being excluded from the succession to the estate. The plot includes mysterious accidents narrowly averted and Alec's wife's mysterious Indian ayah gliding around the estate looking sinister. The claustrophobic atmosphere of suspicion is beautifully conveyed. I enjoyed all this while thinking it was quite a contrast to the almost Edith Wharton-like observations of society life in Part 1. The ending is very moving, and thoroughly satisfying. I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoyed Hodgson Burnett's fiction for children. It has the same unsentimental flavour that made the Secret Garden a classic.
I first read this book in my teens and owned a very old out of print copy. To see that Persephone had reprinted it was a glorious surprise and I read it once more as an adult and found that my enjoyment was still the same. A more unlikely couple of lovers you could not meet - a dull, prosaic Marquis bored by being pursued by society women, and Miss Emily Fox-Seton, who cannot be described in any way as young or beautiful or even interesting. She is however a good woman, living by her own endeavours and in similar circumstances to Miss Pettigrew Lives for a day, another Persephone gem, in that she is facing a frightening future on her own. I adore all of Frances Hodgson Burnett's children's stories with their happy endings and alls well that ends well - yes, this is sentimental, yes it is Victorian, but it is delightful and each time I read it I am sorry that I have come to the end. The Indian ayah portrayed in this book is, of course, politically incorrect in today's climate, but the attitudes prevelant at the time must be borne in mind when reading in the 21st century. Some of the situations are contrived, but it is a lovely book and calling it a 'good read' though not an intellectual recommendation, sums it up beautifully.
on 28 July 2008
I was really looking forward to reading this and saved it up for a long afternoon on the sofa with a cup of tea. But somehow, I was a teeny bit disappointed. I loved The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, but hadn't read any of the prolific Frances HB's work for adults as so much of it is out of print.
The book is very oddly-structured. The first part is a very charming fairytale, as well as a caustic comment on the plight of unmarried women in Victorian society. Emily is bowled over by gratitude and relief when she receives a proposal from a stodgy marquis who doesn't love her, because he has rescued her from a terrifying descent into middle-age as a distressed gentlewoman. But the second part, which is high Victorian melodrama, seems to have been tagged on as something of an afterthought. (The author admitted that she hadn't thought it through as a whole.) Though I suppose it is also a caustic comment on the plight of heirs presumptive whose great expectations (and those of their wives) can so cruelly be blighted!
I'm sure Frances HB had great fun writing it but it reads as though she knocked it off in something of a hurry!
on 1 May 2013
Hands up if you thought Frances Hodgson-Burnett only wrote for children? I know I did until I came across this book recently. Growing up I loved "A Little Princess" and "The Secret Garden" only a little less than I loved the film versions! But despite that I gave little thought to their author, and certainly assumed that she just wrote for children. What I have come to realise recently, however, is that books like "The Secret Garden" were just a side-line to her real career as an adult author- in fact, in her own lifetime it was "The Making of a Marchioness" that she was most famous for.
Anyway, to pretty much sum up the way to get me to buy a book all you have to do is tell me it's by an underappreciated female author and before you've even finished speaking I will have probably bought the book. This has sometimes proved to be a problematic mode of operation, I'll let you into a little secret...sometimes authors, even female ones, are underappreciated for a reason!
Luckily, this is not the case with "The Making of A Marchioness". This is a very interesting book which is nice considering I didn't have any expectations going in, except that the concept seemed intriguing. It's split in two with Part One focusing on how the heroine, Emily Fox-Seton, gets married and Part Two dealing with what happens afterwards. Hodgson Burnett terms it beautifully I think "in the first story wildly romantic things happened to unromantic persons, in the second wildly melodramatic things will happen to undramatic persons". Part One is almost Cinderella-like in its depiction of Emily's rags to riches story with Part Two continuing her story post-marriage. Emily is a woman whose fate is, as one character puts it, to be "perfectly well-born, and who is as penniless as a charwoman, and works like one." Despite being forced to cling to the edges of society Emily is a perennially cheerful woman who has taught herself to expect nothing from life that to be able to buy a new dress every couple of years. In fact, the book opens with her lamenting a recent change in skirt fashions which means she is now hopelessly out of date. She is well connected but does not benefit from this and what I found unusual, and interesting, is that she is a 34 year old. In the traditional romance that's practically dead! Nevertheless what unfolds is, in this instance perhaps, more intriguing than a traditional romance and without giving too much away, the proposal scene is one of my favourite parts of the book. Hodgson-Burnett was also particularly fond of it
"I have never done anything better & more subtle...than that scene on the heath. Walderhurst is complete in his moments there. He expresses quite simply an ingenuous, no unamicable brutality- or rather unadornedness of phrase & statement entirely unconscious & unintentional of offence, which just this particular kind is capable of."
Although Part One is probably the best part of the book, in terms of brilliant dialogue and content, it is Part Two that makes it palatable with the cynic in me. I enjoyed the melodrama in it but what I loved was the undercurrent of subtle, yet realistic, commentary in late Victorian marriage. If Part One's purpose is to show how a woman was defined only by her ability to get married then Part Two is dedicated to showing how she is further condemned by who she has married. Emily's happiness if given the perfect foil in Hester Osborne's misery, whose only fault appears to have been finding herself married to the wrong man. Watching Emily blossom into a confident and self-assured woman whilst Hester moves ever closer to what Hodgson-Burnett terms '"her precipice" is, at times, painful.
Marghanita Laski called this Hodgson-Burnett's best novel, it is, she says; "the level she intended it to be, that of the fairy story diluted with unromantic realism. But she could never have supposed its realism to be as harsh as we now perceive it to be." which is uncannily accurate. Sometimes when I was reading this book I felt as though I was looking at late-Victorian society as I've never seen it before, thoroughly un-rose tinted and stripped of its Hollywood veneer. Surprising in a book which is, on the surface, so simply written, perhaps, but wholly appreciated. We think of our society as being looks-driven, and complain about how demeaning it is, but give me 2013 with all its career opportunities any day. If "The Making of A Marchioness" is anything to go by we don't know anything about what it's like to be judged on our looks, and have nothing but them to rely on. It's like a dystopia book in reverse!
on 28 May 2011
As a child I had read Little Lord Fauntleroy and loved The Secret Garden but discovered this book only recently. It is the story of Emily Fox-Seton, an unmarried woman of genteel birth, who scrapes a living performing errands for those more financially fortunate than herself. She is large but beautiful, sensible and a good organiser, but simple in that she fails to see what is in the minds of those around her and, being of such a kindly disposition herself, cannot imagine that anyone would wish her ill.
The first part of the story relates to her life in a basic room in London, where she earns the devotion of the daughter of the house. How her fortunes change is a fascinating and absorbing read. The second part develops into a melodramatic tale of jealousy and malicious plotting, but even Emily appreciates the melodrama and comments lightly upon it.
The book is a portrait not only of the gentle Emily but also of Victorian and Edwardian life, from the excesses of the upper classes to the hopelessness of women whom marriage has passed by, the uncertainty and despair of those without the means to support themselves. It also reflects the attitudes then prevalent to those of a different race and colour who were generally viewed with suspicion and prejudice.
While it may not be the best of literature, it is easy and enjoyable, and well worth the read.
on 3 December 2010
One thing that must be borne in mind about the Ayah's plotting and conniving is that a major arc of the novel is that the gentry in this tale are too dumb to live, and quite helpless. When Osborne realizes he needs to do away with Emily, he cannot figure out any practical way to do her in, so the Ayah steps into the breach and comes up with plan after plan and executes them with promptness and skill. Emily is completely oblivious of everything around her, including the motives and feelings of other people, and quite helpless in trying to figure out a way to protect herself. Fortunately, she too has a clever, active, and efficient servant, Jane Cupp, who scurries about to counter the Ayah's plans. The Marquis is just as oblivious, slow-witted, unimaginative, and downright dumb as his wife. So it is servant vs. servant, game, set, and match.
Skill, imagination, and practicality are strictly the preserve of the servants, with their masters and mistresses passive, unaware, and what the author frankly calls stupid. In the end, Osborne's wife faces a terrible dilemma, and the ayah steps forward once again with courage and dedication and her usual ready improvisation and effectiveness.
I thoroughly enjoyed this tale, especially the first part before Emily's marriage. Frances Hodgson Burnett always features strong and trusting alliances between women and often has these between women who are supposed to be rivals but who become allies instead (her novel Theo has another striking example of this.) But I like The Shuttle even better.
on 7 March 2002
in the Making of a Marchioness, we are introduced to a lovable and well - portrayed heroine of unusual status: unmarried in her thirties, dogsbody and well-born lady in reduced circumstances. The romance is what dreams are made of, and Part Two, with its demonic elements and melodramatic close-to-death moments, is fast moving and a good contrast to "and they lived happily ever after". HOWEVER, much though the realistic failings of the characters to be perfect is the making of it, we are still reading a dream as very little is explained, very little is motivated and there are huge anomolies to a modern reader between Frances HB's willingness to discuss a birth in detail but not to mention more than a kiss on the cheek for a newly married couple.
Well worth a read to extend the dream-like wonders of "the secret garden" and "a little princess", but you may come away knowing more about linen and clothes, and less about WHY they fell in love or ran away ..
on 1 January 2015
This is a portrait of how the ordinary becomes extraordinary, of how you don't have to be beautiful, intelligent or academic to be special to somebody. It is also an excellent depiction of day to day Victorian society; again not the big bangs but the quotidian that makes up most people's lives.
on 20 January 2014
Loved the wonderful use of language which gave the story a depth and grandeur of its time. Great twist towards the end. could be regarded as heavy going as very detailed. I loved it though and HAD to finish it but was sorry when I did!